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Statement by President Higgins on current situation in Gaza

Date: Mon 11th Mar, 2024 | 15:22

“As the world watches Gaza descend yet deeper towards famine and ever greater loss of life, it is vital that every country in the world now does all in its power to ensure that a humanitarian disaster in its most extreme sense is avoided.

The situation we are now witnessing in Gaza is one from which the global public must not be distracted or avert its gaze. It is a matter of life and death. The blockading of food and aid must immediately be stopped. Vital essential medicines and sources of energy must be provided to what is left of the hospitals in Gaza. Aid that could be delivered immediately is scandalously being blocked and those responsible for doing so must take responsibility for the deaths that are ensuing.

Those countries, and they include some of the strongest economies in the world, who have removed over $450m from the UNRWA budget must take account of what is now being shown on the television screens of the world for all to see – infant children dying from lack of oxygen, many more dying from malnutrition and all of this set to escalate.

The recent decisions made by Canada and Sweden to rescind a previous decision and resume aid to UNRWA are to be welcomed, as is the recent announcement by the European Commission that it will immediately disburse €50m in funding.

Given the depth of what the people of Gaza are now facing, and what is so clear to all concerned, others should now follow such a lead. May I also urge all countries to emulate Ireland’s example in increasing its aid at this time to this most vital United Nations agency.

All members of the United Nations should be concerned and take notice of the statement made by the Commissioner General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, that there has been little less than a campaign against UNRWA. It is a campaign which could have the effect of undermining the role of the UN in the present circumstances and in relation to the future of Gaza. His plea for help deserves the support of all who believe in the United Nations.

The releasing of a propaganda campaign against the United Nations is a scandalous travesty against the little less than heroic efforts of all those involved on the frontline in Gaza – medical staff, those working to supply nutrition and aid in the most trying of circumstances, and those other dedicated professionals in UNRWA who have lost more than 160 of their colleagues.

We in Ireland, as elsewhere, have seen the rise of dangerous misinformation at the very time when there has emerged a widespread shared consensus on the need for such a ceasefire as will enable serious diplomatic exchanges to take place involving the release of hostages and, above all, the release of humanitarian aid to those who so desperately need it.

That this aid could be delivered immediately but is being prevented by both State actions and illegal blockages breaches every humanitarian principle. Indeed, some of the worst scenes of starvation are being seen in those parts of northern and central Gaza where Israel has declared its military campaign complete.

Then too, while carried out with the best of intentions, all of the experts involved in the delivery of food aid have stated that the dropping of aid from the sky cannot be a substitute for the work of UNRWA. The blocking of aid trucks by extremist settlers speaks for itself, being as it is an appalling denial of the humanity of those dying of hunger when it could be avoided.

It is past time that Ireland was joined by all of those countries of the European Union and beyond in calling for an immediate ceasefire to be agreed and for this most vital humanitarian aid to be provided to those so in need of it.

Once a ceasefire has been achieved, there is no time to be lost in addressing such basic issues as will be needed in order to bring a long-term peace which can provide both for the rights of Palestinians and for the appropriate security of Israel.

These requirements have been clear and outlined and highlighted by international observers for many years. It is now, for example, over 18 years since the European Delegation which included former Dutch Prime Minister Andreas van Agt - who sadly passed away in recent weeks - myself and others visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including Gaza.

The report which we issued following our visit made a number of clear recommendations on the actions required. Instead, regrettably, year following year settlements have increased. Indeed, during the present conflict authorisation for over 300 illegal settlements have been proposed, something referred to just this week by Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as a war crime.

The world has been warned by those on the ground, and by those at the highest level, including the Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres, about the implications of an extension of the military campaign into Rafah. No one now or in the future can say they didn’t know what the consequences of inaction would be. This is something that has been emphasised by, among others, the President of the United States.

It is time for the world to put an end to this loss of life, to remember our shared humanity, listen to the peacemakers and commit all of its efforts to bringing this crisis to an end and ensuring an appropriate long term settlement is reached.”